Christine Jackson and Annie Fisher discuss the need to support teachers to teach writing in all subject areas.
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Students' ability to write – and write well – across school subjects is critical for their success in school.

This is because writing is how students learn to synthesise knowledge, critically analyse information and develop sophisticated logical relationships between ideas to express opinions.

The skill of writing is also crucial for students' further education and careers. Writing enables us to share our stories, communicate scientific findings, develop sports coaching game plans, pitch sponsorship proposals and do many other important things. It allows us to communicate, collaborate and innovate.

While the teaching of writing in school is often the role of English teachers, the reality is that writing is critical to many learning areas.

It is a skill that needs to be embedded across subject areas through explicit teaching, regular practice and assessment tasks.

As secondary students progress through schooling, they are now expected to write longer and more complex pieces. In many subjects, they are assessed through extended pieces, such as reports, essays and exams.

When teachers prioritise the teaching of writing in all subject areas, it gives students more opportunities to practise and craft their language and to write confidently with purpose. 

If students are confident about writing, this will encourage them to elect extension courses in English in senior years and enable them to choose senior subjects with extended writing demands.

Despite the importance of writing, a concerning number of students still write at levels lower than expected for their age. From 2011 to 2018, the share of students performing at or below national minimum standards on the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) writing test increased by 6 percentage points for Year 5 and by 8 percentage points for Year 9.

The most effective way to improve student writing is to systematically build teachers’ knowledge and skills in teaching the types of writing that are most relevant for the learning area, as it connects to the curriculum.

The other key ingredient is time: for teachers to invest in teaching writing and for students to spend on sustained writing.  

However, we hear from many teachers that they don’t feel adequately prepared to teach writing

In our work at the Australian Education and Research Organisation (AERO), we see an opportunity to build a larger knowledge base for teachers, and to support them to teach writing explicitly and confidently in all subject areas. That’s why we are creating writing resources aligned to the Australian curriculum and launching a pilot research project supporting a whole-school approach to the teaching of writing.

A whole-school approach to writing

AERO has established a working research partnership with 4 schools across Australia, to pilot a Secondary Writing Instruction Framework.

Through the framework, we are collaborating with schools and teachers, and drawing from past and current research. We will produce a suite of evidence-based professional learning resources and practical guides, to inform a school-wide approach to teaching writing.

AERO will team up with schools to develop:

  • guidance on how best to teach grammar in the context of a subject area
  • explicit activities for implementing grammar and writing instruction in the classroom
  • professional learning sessions and resources demonstrating how to identify and assess features of quality writing
  • guidance on how to align the National Literacy Learning Progressions to subject programs, to effectively target student writing improvement
  • guidance on the teaching of writing in English and other subject areas, as part of a whole-school approach to writing.

Start with simple, compound and complex sentences

We have worked together with teachers to create a new series of guides that provide a starting point for the explicit teaching of writing. They clearly explain simple, compound and complex sentences and also provide examples of these types of sentences to use easily in the classroom.

The guides explain that good writing will generally feature a mix of sentence types, all of which are structured and punctuated correctly. The choice and mix of sentences in a text should be informed by an understanding of the purpose and audience for the writing.

Writing in subjects other than English

AERO is currently developing subject-specific writing guides to highlight the types of sentences mostly used in Science, English, and Health and Physical Education, as well as how they function in different genres.

The guides will include current, annotated samples of student writing, to explore how writing can develop through improving the sophistication and variety of sentence types.

If students are to be successful in school, at work, and in their personal lives, they must learn to write. However, writing is complex and does not develop naturally!

Our intent is to provide resources that support teachers' confidence in writing knowledge and instruction, as well as to highlight the importance of providing students with many opportunities to practise writing in each school subject.

By taking a whole-school approach to teaching writing and supporting all teachers to teach students to write with purpose and clarity, we hope students will receive the quality writing instruction that sets them up for success.

This article was originally published on Education HQ.

About Christine Jackson, Principal Researcher

Christine began her career as a secondary English teacher and has been involved in several projects at school, system and policy level. Christine's work focuses on the teaching and assessment of writing. She is passionate about working with teachers to find pathways to integrate the teaching of writing into all classrooms for improved student writing outcomes.

About Annie Fisher, Senior Researcher

Annie is an experienced primary school teacher and leader, dedicated to evidence-based writing instruction. She is passionate about empowering teachers to improve their practice, ultimately leading to better student outcomes.